Arsenal blew the chance to get back in the title fight by losing to Swansea on Wednesday night.
In truth, there was little that Arsenal could do *but* win given their results recently, not least the latest disaster at Old Trafford. They didn’t and the boos at fulltime let them know how fans felt.
Arsene Wenger made a number of changes. Out went Laurent Koscielny (slight calf injury), Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott and in came Per Mertesacker, Joel Campbell and Olivier Giroud. It was hard to argue with the starting lineup given that Welbz is only just returning after ten months out and Theo is, well, Theo.
If we’d all been expecting a fast and furious start, with the Gunners flying out of the blocks, we didn’t quite get that but they played patient football in front of tense fans and started carving out chances early on.
But Swansea, as usual, had not come just to make up the numbers.
With the fullbacks getting forward against Swansea’s narrow diamond, Arsenal were getting joy on the flanks but when they looked for the pullback they often found a man unable to connect properly leading to a few wasted chances early on.
Alexis Sanchez came closest after just ten minutes. After a total airshot, the ball bounced at his feet and his swinger hit the post only to rebound into the arms of Lukasz Fabianksi. It summed up his form in one move.
It was Joel Campbell, however, who got the breakthrough for Arsenal after 14 minutes. It was a goal his performance until that point had warranted and what a finish it was! A half-volley as he slid across the turf on his arse, it was a brilliant goal.
His first for Arsenal also came against the Swans.
Arsenal seemed in the mood, lifted in no small part by the performance of Campbell. Bellerin had a shot from range which Fabianski had to scramble to collect at the second time of asking, that coming after a Swansea defender had put his own balls on the line to block Mesut Ozil’s effort.
Despite all Arsenal’s dominance, Swansea pulled level although the game should have stopped in the buildup as Mesut Ozil was so clearly fouled it wasn’t even funny. Robert Madley waved play on and Wayne Routledge put the ball past Petr Cech as Bellerin and Mertesacker stood about, presumably debating why we hadn’t got a free kick.
Which was worse – the referee’s decision or the Arsenal defending? It was a close call.
Not a foul pic.twitter.com/MGMU5FbeN6
— Daily Cannon (@DailyCannon) 2 March 2016
That was just one of most annoying things that they did before the half was over. Per was clear on goal and headed the ball back when it seemed simpler to score. Olivier Giroud got to the knockdown but from a few yards out, he banged the bar. Had to do better.
We’d ran a poll before the game asking if Arsenal would win, lose, draw or do something stupid. As many people thought we’d do something stupid as win. It’s not hard to understand why.
The second half started as lively as the first finished and Bellerin could have gone to ground in the box but opted to stay on his feet and got zero reward for his honesty. He’d have probably been booked for diving anyway, even though he was clearly caught by the Swansea goalscorer, Routledge.
Arsenal were pressuring the Swansea box but they were dicking around, trying to play the ridiculous eye-of-a-needle passes, while looking like they could well be caught on the break in the way we have seen all too often. It was more than a little tense and infuriating at times, but they were trying, even if they were being stupid while they did.
Passes were being overhit, under-hit and generally sent wayward and it seemed like a massive slice of luck would be needed to break the deadlock.
Sanchez had a number of chances to do just that, one effort went wide while he made another airshot as he tried to get on the end of an Ozil freekick. Was it coming or were Arsenal just setting us up for Groundhog day once again? It was impossible to tell as the game played out.
The Chilean then hit the bar again, this time after a freekick from the edge of the box,a head in the wall saving Swansea and Gooners everywhere just shook their head as they couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
Then disaster struck…not that we weren’t all expecting it. Gabriel gave away a freekick and Swansea whipped it in delightfully. Cech tried to come for it, missed and it hit Ashley Williams and the back of the net.
It was a devastating but all-too-predictable blow to Arsenal’s title illusions.
Wenger will no doubt feel like his side were incredibly unlucky. They hit the woodwork three times, could have had a penalty, Swansea’s first goal shouldn’t have happened because of the foul in the build up and the foul leading to their second was a little on the soft side.
But Champions deal with these things.
That’s all you need to know right now.
That, and it’s White Hart Lane up next.
(It might be worth mentioning that I wrote the final bit to this post not long after Williams’ goal. That’s how clear it was we were getting nothing from this game)